Enough talking. It's time for action!


For years now the headlines have shouted out that young people and graduates are not ready for the world of work.





Many of the articles argue that schools, colleges and universities are not doing enough to prepare them. Surveys highlight employer concern about the quality and capability of candidates.

If employers are so dissatisfied, then why is it that year after year the same headlines appear? And, why isn’t more being done to address it by our educational institutions? 

Don’t they listen?

In this article I’ll explain why I believe there is a limit to what our educational institutions can achieve, and why employers need to take immediate action by developing essential business skills in their young employees. 

Enough talking. It’s time for action.

Our educational institutions absolutely do listen and act.

Read most university 5-year strategy plans and employability skills are a central tenet and priority.

They invest a considerable amount of resources in the provision Careers and Employability Services. Although not generally embedded in the curriculum, they encourage their students to attend the CV preparation and employability skills development sessions on offer, and access the online content available to them.

Colleges and universities are committed to ensuring that as many students as possible are placed on work-experience; thanks to the support of local and national employers.

So why isn’t this working?

Because, as good as it may be, this is no substitute for the real thing!

Employability skills are learned before joining the real world of work, whereas business skills are developed in the workplace.

Before I explain further, let’s consider the scenario of learning a foreign language.

A student elects to learn a foreign language, for example, Spanish. They attend dedicated classes with a Spanish-speaking teacher. They learn word and phrases and practice speaking, reading and writing in class, as well as consolidate their learning through homework. If they are lucky then they’ll go on a field trip to Spain and be immersed in the language – and critically – the culture.

Afterwards, can they speak Spanish fluently? Possibly, if one of their parents is a native speaker and makes a point of speaking to them in Spanish regularly, otherwise probably not.

If the student really wants to speak, read and write Spanish then they should go and live in a Spain for a considerable period of time; where every day they will use the language and experience the culture.

In fact, my own son did this 9 years ago after completing his A-levels. He went to live in a foreign country and learn the language. A language he had learned in primary and secondary school, and yet still couldn’t speak.

After he completed an extensive 6-month language course, he commenced work.

I remember speaking to him a couple of weeks into his first job. He said “Dad, I’ve learned more [of the local language] in the last couple of weeks than I did on the language course.” I said “Son, no you haven’t. However, you have applied what you’ve learned and rapidly consolidated it.”

There is no substitute for application in a real world context.

I’m proud to say that last year he graduated with a B.Sc from university in that country, having studied in the foreign language, and is working full time as a paramedic – a role that really is a matter of life and death.

So, why do we as employers have such high expectations of our educational institutions to make young people proficient in employability skills?

There is a limit to what they can do to prepare young people and graduates with employability skills for the world of work.



Employability skills are mostly learned implicitly on the sports field (teamwork) or as the head of a society (leadership and management), rather than explicitly. Employability skills are learned implicitly each time a student has to plan an essay (preparation) and meet a deadline (time-keeping) or participate in a group discussion (communication skills). However, few students are told this explicitly; after all, educators are experts in their academic field and focused on imparting their knowledge in the classroom.

I am a volunteer business adviser for the Young Enterprise programme at a local secondary school working with Year 12 students to develop a profitable business. Young Enterprise has inspired approximately 4 million young people to discover and reach their potential over the past 50 years. It focuses on developing key employability skills in young people by supporting them to create a real business in a competitive environment. As an adviser, I am explicitly helping them to develop employability skills that I continually highlight to them, and explain the importance of these in the workplace.

According to their website, last year Young Enterprise helped approximately 340,000 young people aged 4 to 25 years old. There are approximately 16 million young people in this age range in the UK.

Young Enterprise is excellent but only reaches 2%

of its potential audience each year.

That’s 1 in 50. Of course, there are other programmes and initiatives taking place throughout our education system, however if Young Enterprise – the largest of them – is anything to go by, then together they are only ‘scratching the surface’.


It is our responsibility as employers to ‘take up the baton’ and develop essential business skills in our young employees during their first year in our employ.

Essential business skills are:

  • Personal management
  • Interpersonal behaviour (emotional intelligence) 
  • Communication skills 
  • Team working 
  • Problem solving 
  • Management 
  • Leadership 
  • Industry intelligence 
  • Customer awareness 
  • Financial awareness


The most effective place for young employees to learn them is while in employment and consolidate them in the workplace.

That’s been my experience of young employees attending the
GradStart® programme.


There is a well-known learning model called 70:20:10. 70% is learned and developed through experience; 20% from colleagues and mentors; 10% on formal courses.

Providing your young employees with a formal ‘graduate-style’ development programme is an excellent way of helping them to learn and understand core business skills and terminology.

In the workplace, they will apply what they’ve learned on a daily basis, so that within a relatively short period of time, they will become proficient, productive and professional. Their colleagues and mentors will help them to understand the real world context when applying their new found skills.


It’s a win-win-win.

A win for the young employee; a win for their colleagues;
and a win for your


Here is a message I received recently from one of our GradStart® graduates:

“I do hope GradStart is a continuing success?

Things at [their organisation] have gone from strength to strength. I'm now part of the Technical Project Team which coordinates all our projects and enjoying every single minute.”


You don’t have to be a large employer with an HR/L&D department, expertise, space or deep pockets to provide one, as you can outsource the formal component of essential business skills development for your young employees.  

GradStart® is one such programme designed for SMEs.

So it’s time for us, as employers, to stop making the headlines, and start doing more to develop the business skills of our young employees so that they can lay down a solid foundation on which to build their career, and achieve their potential.


Enough talking. It’s time for action.

It’s the right thing to do.